Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jimmy Decker, Part III, by E.D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly "Indian Territory" or I.T.

Well now, the next day Sheriff Clyde McGill paid visits to Jimmy and Tommy Tink. Tink by this time was sober, if hung over, and admitted to most of what he was accused of, the end result of which was that he agreed in court to pay for Jimmy's dental work instead of going to jail. Jimmy got the money, alright, but no dentist ever saw any of it.

The preacher had another "come to Jesus" talk with Jimmy and the end result of that was that Jimmy jist up and quit coming to church altogether, along with them kids. I have to admit that by then we weren't too cut up about not having Jimmy around, but them kids...them kids was something else. I'd see them once in a while down at Daughtery's grocery store in Thackerville, and would buy them candy or pop. They was always appreciative of anything you did for them. But they jist sort of disappeared little by little from our lives.

A few months later, and this didn't surprise anybody much, Jimmy was out late in that old truck of his and hit another feller east of town. Both of 'em was drunk and neither one was much hurt, but the end result of that was that Jimmy lost his license to drive, which put a crunch on him and the kids. They moved to Marietta where he worked at the cookie factory and bought an old bicycle to get around on.

That oldest girl, Hannah, got a baby with old J.D. and moved in that new trailer house down at White Rose. Pretty soon, she had another baby and then another. J.D. never had to work another day in his life, like he said, and along with the welfare and whatever they kept getting from old man Killigrew, they managed to get by. The trailer was pretty much of a mess after a couple of years and the dog population there continued to grow.

Little Jimmy got into trouble with drugs and robbery down between Gainesville and Denton, and after two or three warnings went off to "pick cotton for Uncle Bud" down at Gatesville, Texas, courtesy of the Texas taxpayers. He got out, got into more trouble, and finally ended up in the Huntsville penitentiary for stabbing somebody to death down around Mexia.

I am proud to tell you that that youngest girl, Elizabeth, turned out good. She made good grades, graduated valedictorian of her class and went off to the University in Norman on a scholarship. She married well and became a schoolteacher. We hear about her ever' once in a while, though she has never come back home, so far as anybody knows.

Jimmy continued to hang around with a rough crowd. He took up with several women in Marietta, but never for long. He let his hair grow long and got to looking kind of rusty. From time to time I'd see him peddling that bicycle down the main street in Marietta and would beep my horn or holler at him. Each time he would see me, recognize me for sure, but would never acknowledge me. I finally quit trying to get his attention when I would see him.

Well, after a year or two, he got his license back and commenced his ramblings to various joints on the River and elsewhere. He was in a beer joint up on Hickory Creek south of Ardmore around Christmas last year and got into an altercation with with an old man over a shuffleboard game. Evidently, Jimmy accused the old man of cheating and when he wouldn't admit to this, Jimmy hit him. Well, this was a tough old bird and Jimmy didn't have the sense to know who he was dealing with. The old booger gathered himself together and when Jimmy turned away, he reached around with a Case pocket knife and severed the carotid artery on the right side of Jimmy's throat. He bled to death on the nasty floor of that dive.

I went to the funeral and there wadn't nobody there but Hannah and J.D. and their babies, and Wanda (who cried uncontrollably; Hannah never shed a tear, that I could see), and one or two of Jimmy's drinking buddies. There was a preacher there I didn't know who assured ever'body that Jimmy was finally in a better place. The whole thing and all the memories it brought back depressed me for the best part of a week.

I thank alot about it all. I thank about them kids. I thank about Jimmy quoting the book of Romans with a glow on his face. I thank about that cold night before Christmas with that big barn of a moon.

And I thank about "once in grace, always in grace" a lot, too, especially when I thank about Jimmy.

When I thank about that, I don't know what to thank.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jimmy Decker, Part II, by E.D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly "Indian Territory" or I.T.

When we got to the front door and knocked, the youngest girl, Elizabeth, let us in. You could tell she'd been crying. The oldest girl, Hannah, was sitting on the couch encircled in the arms of a teen-aged boy with a fat lower lip. It took me a minute to recognized him as that boy of Wanda's with the steel plate in his head. Little Jimmy was standing beside his daddy holding a big chunk of ice on top of his daddy's head. The ice was melting and running in streams down Jimmy's face.

Jimmy was sitting in that armchair straight as a poker. He was holding a glass of milk in his left hand and sticking out of the very center his mouth was a nasty washrag, rolled up like an over sized cigar, half soaked in blood. When we greeted him, he removed the washrag with his free hand, curled back his swollen lips, and showed us the empty space where his two front teeth had been.

"Fonofabitch knocked my teef out" he said. "But, I safed 'em in thif milk fo they can fut 'em back in." At this, he held up the jelly glass of milk holding the missing teeth.

Well, when he displayed his mouth and the bloody rag, the girls started crying all over again.

"What happened here?" the preacher asked.

Jimmy had returned the rag to the vacancy in his mouth, so Wanda's boy had to take it from there.

Seems that this Indian feller from down the street had been over, and there had been a little party, and him and Jimmy had been sharing a jug when the party turned nasty. This Indian was a rough customer named Tommy Tink. He drove a red pick up truck with a sticker on it that said, "I'm a lover and a fighter and a wild bull rider," was the truth, mostly.

"He wanted to fight me," J.D. (Wanda's boy) said. "Said he was the best fighter south of Marietta and had whupped ever'body worth whuppin' and what did I thank about that? I said I would fight him, at least rastle him, so we pushed back the furniture and went at it. Well, I pinned him to the floor and it made him mad, so when I let him go, he slapped me across the mouth. That made Jimmy mad, so he came in between us and Tommy hit Jimmy in the mouth. Jimmy jist stood there, kindly dazed, spitting his teeth into his hand, when Tommy hit him again on top of the head when he had his head down. Then he said he was going home to git his fuckin' gun and was goin' to kill all of us, including the puppy."

"Puppy?" the preacher inquired.

Jimmy took the rag the rag out of his mouth again and took up the story where J.D. had left off.

"Yeah, I waf tryin' to get the kidf a Chrifmas preffent. Tink haf thefe bull dog puppief and I traded him for one of them for the kidf."

Elizabeth went into the kitchen and brought back a little brindled bulldog pup that was yawning from being waked up.

"Ain't he purty?" remarked J.D.

Well, he was at that, but that wadn't the main thang on our minds at the moment.

"You think Tommy means business, E.D.?" the preacher said to me.

"Well, he ain't one to mess with, especially if he's had enough of that cheap whiskey."

The preacher thought for a minute, and said, "Here's what I think we'll do. We'll take the kids to the parsonage and put them to bed. I'll stay there and sit up til you get back. You take Jimmy to old Doc Grey and take J.D. home. When you get back I'll take you to Bomar. You kids, get your stuff together. You won't have to go to school tomorrow, today, that is. What do you think, E.D.?"

"That'll work," I replied.

"What about the puppy?" the kids said in unison.

"Well, J.D. can take him home with him. The missus won't mind three children and their daddy, but that pup will be pushing things."

Well, we got their stuff together and turned off the gas stove and were all going down the steps when Jimmy stumbled and dropped his glass of milk. The tumbler went tumbling and its contents were spilled in the grass. There was Jimmy on his hands and knees feeling around for his precious teeth, while the kids and J.D., along with the pup went and got into the preacher's car. The preacher got a flashlight out of the car and after a long spell, the three of us managed to find the missing enamels. Jimmy wanted to go back and get more milk, but the preacher told him that it was an old wives tale about keeping them teeth in milk anyhow. So, we all piled into the front seat to start our early morning mission.

As soon as the preacher slammed his door, the smell of dog do filled the confined space. The preacher was already wound up and that jist pushed it a little too far.

"That does it!" he shouted, "That damned dog has shat in my car!"

Well, we was all kinda quiet at this unministerial outburst, and I was holding back a grin, when in the quiet, J.D. says,

"Oh, goody! We'ved been tryin' to git him to do that all day long!"

Now, I couldn't help grinning after that.

"Well, you go in that house and git something to clean it up with!" the preacher said.

Now, we all got out of the car while we waited for J.D. to get his cleaning materials and went about his job. When he finished, he jist dropped the paper and its contents on the ground by the car and started to get back in.

The preacher said, "Boy! Were you born in a barn? Get out and take that around back to the trash can."

Maybe J.D. wadn't born in a barn, but his manners had the smell of a barn about them. He jist didn't know any better.

Well we got them kids and the preacher over to the parsonage, got Doc Grey up to look at Jimmy, (between Doc and Jimmy that little examining room smelled like a distillery), and I started with J.D. down to White Rose. The little pup jist slept on his lap.

J.D. directed me down the roads and turns and we came up to Wanda's place.

Now, instead of that old shack I had heard about, there was this brand new trailer house sitting there.

"Goodness gracious, sake's alive, boy!" I exclaimed, "Y'all surely have come up in the world! How did your mama manage that?"

J.D. jist slapped himself twice up the side of his head where that steel plate was and said,

"Old man Killibrew done that when mama threatened to take him to court on account of it bein' his mule that kicked me! Won't never have to work a day in my life, neither!" With that, he took the pup and got out of the car and went into his new home.

I jist sat there awhile takin' in all that had happened in the past two hours, finally grinning to myself. When J.D. came back to the door to see what the matter was, I waved, reversed the car, and headed back to Thackerville and the scene of the crime...

To be continued...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jimmy Decker by E.D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly "Indian Territory" or I.T.

One night the preacher called on the telephone and said he wanted me to go with him to the Decker place. As a matter of fact, he got me out of bed as it was past midnight when he called. I pulled my clothes and coat on and waited on the porch for him. Shortly, I saw his headlights rounding the bend down in the draw in front of the house and walked out to meet him.

Getting in the car I accepted his apology for getting me up, but he said he thought he might need me in this situation.

"Which situation?" I asked.

"Well, Jimmy came over to the parsonage about an hour ago and said he had trouble there at the house and feared for his life and the life of his kids."

Well, it was the week before Christmas and more than a little chilly and the moon was coming up late and it was one of them thangs the scientists talk about, because the moon looked like it was as big as my barn it was so close to the earth. Pretty though, and you could almost read by it it was so bright.

Jimmy Decker had moved into the community with his three younguns and started coming to the church. He was from way up north somewhere, I thank it was Minnesota of some such place. He had been a rough customer and lived for a while in the cab of his old Ford truck, til Togo Sloan offered him an abandoned chicken house on his place. This was before Jimmy got his younguns. Jimmy used to get drunk and drop onto this old pile of cardboard and raggy quilts to sleep it off. The rats had made a house up under that cardboard and he could hear 'em scratchin' under his head, whereupon he'd slam his fist down on his pillow and they'd run to the bottom of the pile for a while.

Anyhow, the Free Will Baptists was having a brush arbor camp meeting over west of the railroad tracks and Jimmy got to going on account of the singin' and he up and got saved. Purely cleaned him up, inside and out. Quit drinkin', got a hair cut ever' two or three weeks and went to work. After a while he got tired of the the doings at the Free Willers with their "in grace, out of grace," and started coming to the Baptist church where the emphasis was on "once in grace, always in grace." He was there ever' time the doors was open and he come along in knowledge in a powerful way. For instance, he got to memorizing Bible verses and before long he had the whole book of Romans down pat- could rattle it off like an auctioneer in a sweat. Ever'body jist was amazed at the way Jimmy come along, and some of 'em even thought he might surrender to preach and was prayin' that the Lord would call him.

Well, Jimmy had these three kids by an old gal over in Addington Bend. They never was married, but they was his alright, same black hair and black eyes. Well, their mama was trashy and that ain't a harsh judgment in her case. Had this old boyfriend that went to messin' with the two girls and that littlest one wadn't but four or five. So Jimmy come to the preacher and told him about the mess and they went to Marietta and talked to John Steel Batson who was a high-powered lawyer and a member of the State House of Representatives. Well, John Steel got 'em a lawyer friend who eventually got custody of them kids for Jimmy. He rented a little place over west of the tracks and folks give 'em food and clothing poundings. You should of seen Jimmy and them kids when they showed up at the church in them new clothes, all clean and shiny. It would've brought tears to your eyes. It did mine.

Well, they went along for a good while like that, regular at work and school and church. People was always doing for them and glad to do it. And Jimmy, he'd help anybody with needs, especially the old folks. He was handy, was Jimmy, and smart. The whole thang looked like something out of the book of Acts.

Now, after about a year like this, Jimmy started seeing this woman down south of White Rose, close to the River. Ever'body knew about her and she wadn't much more of a moral character than the mother of them three kids. This went on for a while without much anybody knowing about it, but in a small community like ours, people talk.

The first time Jimmy got in trouble, the preacher bailed him out of jail up in Marietta and took him to this girl friend's place because the kids was there. Her name was Wanda and she was a tragic thang-heavy set, teeth missing in front, and far from clean. She had this addled boy who had been kicked by a mule and had a steel plate in his head. The old house was a decrepit mess- when the preacher steadied himself on a porch post when he went up the steps, the post fell over and hit one of twenty or so dogs that filled the yard. The kids was all cryin' when they saw their daddy- he'd been in a fight and had a nasty black eye. Anyways, the preacher got 'em in his car and took 'em home and the next day had some kindly, but plain dealin' with their daddy. Jimmy straightened up for a while, went forward and rededicated his life to the Lord, but before long he was heard to be down on the River and staying nights in that little shack of a place south of White Rose. Those of us who watched it all happen, watched in pure grief, on account of how good Jimmy had started on the Christian way. But, mostly we grieved about them kids.

So, that's about where thangs stood on that cold night in December with that big old moon, and me and the preacher going across the tracks at Thackerville to that little rent house of the Deckers...

To be continued...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dora and the Military Parade, by E.D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly Indian Territory, or IT

Dora Wood was not the most pleasant woman I ever knew. In fact, Dora could be down right unpleasant. Her preacher once visited her while her younger sister (they was both old as the Territory) was present, and when he complimented the sister more'n he did Dora, she began to pout. Well, this preacher was young and kindly brash, so in his prayer he prayed that Dora would be more thankful for her blessings and be kinder to the younger (old) girl. Whereupon, Dora interrupted the praying and chastised the preacher for praying such.

Not always pleasant, was Dora.

Now, she had had a good bit of bad luck. Her husband up and left her during the Depression with a little girl child to care for. If it hadn't been for a Widows' Home taking her in, she would have had it rough. Never got over that, being abandoned and left with the child and having to live in that Home. You know how it is with some folks, the bitterness of thangs jist sort of stains them like dye does cloth. Cain't never get it out, it goes so deep. That girl grew up and sorta left ever'thang about her former life, including her Mamma. Went off to Washington, D.C. Got a college education and married above her former station in life. That'ud kindly embitter anybody and it did Dora. Jist made a bad thang worse.

Well, anyhow, Dora finally had to go into one of them Nursing Homes and little by little lost her mind. Nobody came to see her but the preacher and me. That girl would send her money on her birthday, which she didn't have any use for (and, to her credit, payed the bills), but she never did come around and I think that jist made Dora go off into the past even faster. Humans survive in lots of ways, and I ain't one to be much critical about the ways and means they manage to do so.

So, one Saturday, I drove over to see Dora in the Home (Come to think of it, pore thang, she'd spent most of her life in Homes of one kind of another besides her own, and if that ain't another reason to have pity on the pore old thang, I don't know what it would take.) Anyhow, I went in and found her dozing in a wheel chair in the hall in front of her room; they'd sorta tied her in the damn thang, so she wouldn't fall out. I gently woke her up and said,

"Dora, what are you doing out here in the hall? Why aren't you in bed?"

"Oh, E.D.," she said, I ast them to put me out here so's I could see the parade."

"Parade? What 'parade'?" says I.

"Oh, the military parade. They's going to be a big military parade. And Papa, and Uncle Job, and a bunch of other people are going to come marching by anytime now."

Now, her Papa had been in the Spanish American War and her Uncle Job had been in France in 1917, but they both was dead and buried in a little cemetery down in Leon. So, I thought it best to get her mind off this nonsense and cheer her up.

"Why don't we go down to the singing? There's a Gospel group from the Free Will Baptist Church down there with a guitar and a piano. You know how them Free Willers can sing."

Well, Dora purely loved singing and Gospel singing was her favorite. I could see by her furrowed brow that she was torn and tempted. I let her worry that thought for a while by keeping my silence.

Finally, she said with a sigh, "I'd purely love to..."

"Okie-dokie, Mizz Wood," I said with relief, "Mr. Smith will be your chaperone." And I began to wheel her down the hall.

"I'd purely love to, E.D.," she repeated, "but then I might miss the parade!"

A Balm in Gilead

Some times I feel discouraged
And think my work's in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit,
Revives my soul, again.

There is a balm in Gilead...

Negro Spiritual, 18th and 19th Centuries

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Levi and Vlurma Ponder by E.D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly Indian Territory or "IT"

Old Levi Ponder lived to be one hundred and two. So when I call him "old" I don't jist mean that he was dear to us, but that he was jist that- old. His wife, Vlurma, was ninety-two when he died. They had been married seventy three years. They lived on a little place they worked south of Thackerville jist west of the White Rose schoolhouse. They never had no children neither, which led some of the folks to wonder why.

Part of the answer, and maybe all of it may have been revealed in old Levi's last illness. I was standing there in the bedroom when this young doctor says, "Vlurma, Did you know that Levi had this horrible hernia?" As he asked this, he held his hands about a foot apart, and all of us was afraid he might throw back the bed covers so that we could see the real thang. "Yes," Vlurma replied with her customary shyness. "How long has he had this thing?" the doctor pressed. "Jist after we married. He was pulling stumps in the north field when it came. It jist kindly got worse and worse over the years." "Well, why didn't he get it fixed?" said the young feller. "Levi never took much stock in doctors," says Vlurma. "Besides," she added, in what was for her an unusual commentary, "one of the things I was able to do for Levi through the years was to help him fold that thing ever' morning into his underwear." You could tell that she thought of this as an act of wifely affection, and I was kinda moved by it.

Well, after Levi died, Vlurma stayed on the little place in that little house of theirs for a year or eighteen months, but ever'body knew she was in bad health and couldn't take care of herself rightly, so some of us who was close to her (she is distantly kin to me) persuaded her to go into a nursing home down in Gainesville. It nearly killed her to do it, but she was kindly lost after old Levi died, so she resigned herself to go.

I used to go down and see her about ever' week, beings as how I was partly responsible for her being in that place. I purely hate them places and hope I die before I have to go to one myself, so I guess out of loving her and feeling guilty about putting her in there, I tried to go see her ever' week. It ain't too long a drive from Bomar down there anyhow.

Well, ever' time I went, there Vlurma would be settin' in this rocking chair and lookin' out the window. Always the same. She was always glad to see me and we would visit, and talk about news in the community, and the weather, and old times, and such like. Sometimes I would roll her around the place in a wheelchair.

One day, as I was rolling her down the halls, I says to her, "Vlurma, they's singin' in the big room today. Would you like to go hear the singin'?"

"Levi never took much stock in singin'" she replied in her quiet way.

After a while, I tried again. "Vlurma, would you like to git a book out of the library? They's lots of nice books in there."

Quietly, she says, "Levi never took much stock in reading."

In the silence that followed, I took another stab.

"Vlurma, honey, would you like to go watch the television in the television room?"

"No, thank you, E. D.," she says, polite as can be, "Levi never took no stock in television."

Well, I was getting kindly flustered by then and I says,

"Well, Vlurma, what did Levi like?"

In a big voice that I had never heard her use in all the years I had known her she said

"Levi liked to work!"

The Holiness of Everyday Stuff

I believe in the holiness of everyday stuff. That is, I believe that the stuff, the matter of our daily lives is good and holy, that it is sacramental. From the toast we butter every morning to the soft beds we lie upon every night (if we are so blessed to have bread and beds!), and everything in between, we are touching the stuff that God has made, given, and blessed.

I believe this because the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, declare it to be so. St. Paul, writing late in his life, says, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected..." I Timothy 4:4. Paul is engaged here in commentary on the first chapter of Genesis. God created all things. God created all things good. God created all things to be received and enjoyed by the acme of his creation, man.

Stuff is not, in and of itself, bad. Those who teach that it is are teaching the doctrines of demons and deceitful spirits, as Paul says in verse 1 of the same passage. In particular, food and marital sex are singled out as good, because then, and throughout the history of the Christian Church these have been hot points of controversy. To the Jews, who had been reared in a tradition of kosher food laws, this was a serious departure from the faith of ancient Israel. But, Paul, an orthodox Jew often insisted upon this change in God's program, see Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8-10. In doing so, he was following the lead of Jesus in Mark 7:14-23. Furthermore, Paul is following the Old Testament on the question of marital love. The Old Testament often celebrates this gift and devotes an entire book to it in the Song of Solomon. Food and sex are good, as is everything else that God has made. It is the goodness, the appropriateness of these things that enables us to say of them, "They are sacramental."

This view of life opens life to a whole new way of living. It takes us back to the origins and to the purpose of things. It tells us why the world and all that is in it is. It gives a basis for probing and understanding what things are for. It gives us direction and purpose and boundaries for our lives. It tells us that, as great and wonderful as human beings are, we are inadequate and clueless in understanding the whys and the wherefores of things apart from Divine Revelation. If the stuff of this life-all of it- is made by God, then we are in a position to seek from God, the Maker, insight and understanding as to the purpose and use of these things. Christians, thus believe that life, including marriage, food, work, and everything else is defined and delimited by God. This leads, even in the delimitations, to a life that is potentially full and, in a healthy way, safe. The modern view is that man himself defines and delimits all of this. There are no limits, except those posed by the experts. This is because the modern rejects the idea of a Divine origin and regulation of stuff. The Christian Gnostic, because he believes that stuff is bad or questionable, places himself in a position similar to the modern secularist. He must determine and set the limits of life from inside his own head and from his own experience.

The Christian, by accepting the Divine origin and regulation of all reality, is in a position to live fully, joyfully, and safely in the world (though, God knows, it is a scary place!). He is in a position to live sacramentally.

The key to this, according to Paul in the Timothy letter, is found "in the word of God and prayer." We "gratefully paticipate" in all these things as those "who believe and know the truth." "We receive them with thanks." Verses 3,4. In this way, "they (the stuff of life) are sanctified (made holy, consecrated to God) by the word of God and prayer." Verse 5.

This makes every bush a "burning bush" and every parcel of ground "holy ground." It means our work, play, worship, sufferings, joy, and all else are holy things. This gives our lives significance, safety, and satisfaction, because it gives to all of it a real sanctity. This is a sanctity guaranteed by the Real Presence of Christ. He who became flesh is with us in our fleshly lives. He who ate bread and fish, who drank water and wine, is with us in the mundane realities of our quotidian existence.

Not bad. Not bad at all!

Queen Elizabeth I on the Lord's Supper

'Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it;
And what the Word did make it;
I believe that, and I take it.

(A form of the same thing is attributed to John Donne.)